A Man for All Seasons


Dirk Königsbrügge loves a challenge. At the moment, the engineer is on assignment in Switzerland. His task is not only to convert one synthesizing process into another but also simultaneously increase its capacity – all during ongoing production.

Dirk Königsbrügge happened to be in India on business once again when he received a call from Europe. He was not surprised when the voice at the other end of the line asked, “Say, could you take over a project in Switzerland?” As a mechanical engineer who has been working for Bayer Technology Services now for a quarter of a century, Königsbrügge has received many such calls during that time. Sometimes an offer might come at an opportune time and he was able to take off immediately. Christmas 1996 was one such example. He had just wrapped up a project at the Bayer site in Brunsbüttel, near Hamburg, Germany, and so could accept the job immediately and catch a flight to Jakarta. He had no idea at the time that he would be spending the next three years in Indonesia. 

When the call came from Switzerland, Königsbrügge had to stall for time, since his consulting project at Bayer Crop- Science in Vapi, India, was not yet completed. Nonetheless, he accepted.

He arrived at the Muttenz plant in July 2012. It is here, southeast of Basel, that Bayer CropScience produces three substances for important crop protection products. One of these is trifloxystrobin, a substance that lends Bayer fungicides like Flint, Nativo, and Stratego their high efficacy against many types of fungal diseases. To meet increasing global demand, Bayer CropScience wanted to double its capacity. At the same time, the first of a total of seven steps in the synthesis process was to be converted to another method that makes use of more economical feedstock. Bayer Crop- Science and Bayer Technology Services had developed this alternative method while collaborating on a previous project (see technology solutions 1/2012, p. 36). The project had also resulted in a special treatment for waste products. This had come about because tests revealed that the waste contained chemicals related to trifloxystrobin, which could easily be converted into the active agent itself. This process step alone will increase the production capacity by seven percent. Königsbrügge’s challenge now was to manage the technical conversion on a large scale. Dr. Wolfgang Bäcker, Bayer CropScience’s site manager, is delighted with the support and the anticipated effect: “Thanks to this, we can save up to 26 million euros a year.”

“Thanks to this support,we can save up to 26 million euros a year.”

Dr. Wolfgang Bäcker

Site Manager in Muttenz, Bayer CropScience

At first glance, increasing the capacity appeared to be a routine job: a couple of new mixing tanks here and there, some heat exchangers in all the right places, the usual pumps and piping. But on closer examination, it became clear that this project was more complicated than meets the eye. “The new and larger plant couldn’t simply be set up next to the old one,” explains Königsbrügge. “A key requirement was that as many components as possible from the old facility were to be integrated into the new process.”

This, too, would have been routine, if the old system could be simply shut down and the re-engineering process carried out without undue time pressure. “But we didn’t have that luxury,” says Königsbrügge. Bayer CropScience produces trifloxystrobin in only one location in the world and that is Muttenz. For this reason, there could be no long gaps in production. To put it another way, for Königsbrügge’s team it was like switching horses while galloping at full speed. 

The first phase was comparatively harmless. It centered on constructing a building to house the equipment needed for the new synthesizing step as well as two additional reaction stages. Although there was also a tight schedule for this phase of the project, at least it did not collide with the ongoing production in the neighboring building.

The second phase of the project is a little trickier. This involves setting up the equipment for expanding the synthesis stages two through five in the existing production hall. “We want to switch over completely to the new system in August 2014 and, naturally, as smoothly as possible,” says Königsbrügge. Ideally, it will only require opening a couple of stopcocks and valves to redirect the stream of material into the new part of the system – but it will have to work on the first attempt. And it is this perfect integration of the individual project steps that represents one of the special challenges for 58-year-old Königsbrügge.

Integration equally fits the image Königsbrügge uses to describe working with his Swiss colleagues at Bayer Crop- Science: “Like clockwork from the very start.” A Swiss clock, of course. And, although Königsbrügge has been involved in many successful projects during his 25 years with the company, this perfection and precision delights him still.

Dirk Königsbrügge has stood in front of many such plants in the course of his career.
Dirk Königsbrügge has stood in front of many such plants in the course of his career.

There is something else that pleases Königsbrügge about the Swiss project. He can catch a train to Cologne on a Friday evening and spend the weekend with his wife. It was not always this easy. During his time in India and Indonesia, for example, his family life was limited to telephone calls and quarterly visits. He could often only experience his children growing up from a distance. This is why he recommends that colleagues “try to organize lengthy stays abroad to include your whole family.” In retrospect, he would have done the same. Sometimes it worked out, but not in the case of his three years in Indonesia. This was because originally he was not meant to stay that long, but one thing led to another.

All things considered, however, Königsbrügge is content with his nomadic professional life. Why else would he have recommended specializing in plant engineering to his son, Jan? After all, engineers who follow this career path can expect to be transferred somewhere else every couple of years. But, in his opinion, if you manage to balance this with your private life, there is nothing to beat it. “Besides, it’s not only extremely diversified but also very satisfying.” The final result is always a finished plant that is of concrete benefit, such as the one in Muttenz. After all, substances are produced here that help the whole world to secure crops and fight hunger. “Having been a part of that is really a fantastic feeling,” concludes Königsbrügge.

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